Is Your Luggage a Mess? Welcome to the Fold


Samsonite, the luggage manufacturer, held a contest recently offering prizes to travelers who sent in the best tip for packing. The first-place winner was a Fulton, N.Y., woman who suggested mixing family clothing in each suitcase carried on the trip. The idea is that if one suitcase gets lost on a flight, everyone will still have something clean to wear.

At its worst, packing for a trip is no more than a petty annoyance. But who wants to start a vacation hassled, upset and grumbling?

Entire books have been written on the subject, the latest called “The Packing Book” by Judith Gilford (Ten Speed Press, $ 7.95). She teaches packing courses at a Berkeley, Calif., bookstore and insists you can pack everything you need for a two-week trip in a suitcase small enough to stow in an airplane overhead compartment. Just plan to do a little hand laundry every night before climbing into bed.

You might think business travelers would have it comparatively easy, because they only have to pack office wear. Far from it. A summer trip to chilly San Francisco demands heavier clothing than a meeting in sweltering New Orleans. For San Francisco, you probably will want to take along a light rain coat for foggy nights. Will it fit in your suitcase? For New Orleans, where the sweat drips profusely, consider packing a shirt or blouse for daytime wear--for every day you are gone--and a fresh one for dinner at the city’s superb restaurants. How many shirts is that? Decisions, decisions.


Every traveler faces many variables, which must be taken into account when choosing what to pack:

* How long will you be gone? A short trip, of course, is easier to pack for. You can toss everything you need into a suitcase and not worry it will be too heavy. But when you plan to be gone more than a week or two, you have to start thinking about items of clothing that wear well over several days. Silk is light, and it seems to hold up much better in repeated wearings than cotton. I’ve invested in several silk shirts at my wife’s suggestion. Jeans are heavy, but I wore a pair for a week of sightseeing in Italy recently without feeling too shabby.

* Are you bound for a single destination--where you can empty your suitcase into a closet or dresser until it’s time to return home? Or will you keep on the move and never really unpack? If you expect to live out of your suitcase, you probably don’t want to use such space-saving packing techniques as stuffing belts, socks and underwear into your shoes. Unstuffing and restuffing becomes too much of a hassle on a daily basis. Think in terms of easy access. I stack shirts on one side of the suitcase, pants on the other and line the bag with underwear and socks. I know where to reach for what I want.

* What kind of trip are you taking? A cruise to Alaska, a hiking holiday in the mountains, a motor-coach tour of Europe, a romp at the beach, a visit with old friends or family? Each getaway requires a different wardrobe, and you may want to check ahead to determine what to take to avoid problems.


In recent years, dress has become increasingly casual in the United States, Europe and elsewhere--a trend that is making packing easier. I seldom pack a tie anymore unless I know I’ll need one for a spiffy event such as an anniversary dinner with my wife. The other day I phoned a restaurant to ask if a jacket and tie were required. “No,” came the reply. “We are in the food business, not the clothing business.”

* How are you getting there? If you are driving, you can stuff the trunk with as much paraphernalia as you think you will need. If you are flying, you have to trim back to one or two bags per person.

* Do you enjoy doing hand laundry? In her book, Gilford notes that people who travel light can expect to be washing out their clothing often. Yuck!



Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to pack for your vacation. Here are some suggestions that may make it easier:

* Don’t wait until the last minute. I’m sure this sounds like compulsive behavior, but I generally am finished packing two or three days before my trip--the longer the trip, the sooner I’ve packed. Any time you leave home for several days, lots of things have to be done at the last minute (such as watering the house plants), but packing isn’t one of them. I go out of town on an average of twice a month, and I’ve found there’s much less stress to the departure when I’m not folding shirts and trousers while a taxi waits outside.

Also, I’m less likely to forget something.

* Pack a smaller, soft-sided carry-on bag inside your larger suitcase. This is the second-place winning tip in the Samsonite contest. My wife and I pack an extra bag all the time. We fill it--as the contestant suggested--with vacation souvenirs. We tend to buy handmade folk-art objects, which can be wrapped and stuffed in the bag for safe carrying.


* Take old clothes. When I’m about to leave on a long trip, I sometimes search my wardrobe for worn-out items or things I haven’t put on for a year or two. As long as they are in decent shape, I’ll pack them, wear them along the way and then discard them. Each day my suitcase gets lighter. In Italy, I deposited old pairs of undershorts and socks in the wastebasket of my hotel room each day. I wonder what the housekeeper thought?

* Wrap clothing in tissue paper as you pack it to ward off wrinkles. This is another Samsonite hint, which I’ve not tried. I fold my shirts and place them in plastic sweater bags. They always emerge less wrinkled than dress shirts pressed and packaged by a commercial laundry. Also, I usually pack cotton khaki pants rather than slacks for dress-up occasions, because khakis fold without much wrinkling.

* Use travel-size versions of toiletry items to save space in your suitcase. Anything that cuts down on the weight of your suitcase is worth considering. Because I travel so much, I keep a toiletries case always packed with a small version of everything I need on the road.

* Choose a color scheme for your clothing and stick to it. Gilford lists this among her 10 top tips for travelers. When clothing and accessories are coordinated, she says, you can “mix and match items freely to create different looks.”


* Before your trip, pack your bag and walk a quarter-mile with it. “If you can’t manage,” says Gilford, “take out the extras.” Her advice is exaggerated, but Gilford has the right idea for anyone traveling by plane, train or bus. Don’t pack more than you can readily carry. Even a suitcase with wheels has to be hoisted sometimes. If you need more space, pack two smaller suitcases rather than one large one. They will be easier to handle.

* Put children’s outfits (shirt, shorts, socks, underwear) in sealable bags, one for each day. “The children’s outfits will match, and there will not be any arguments about what to wear,” Samsonite says. “Dirty clothing can go back into the same bag to keep it away from other clothing.” And you can save space “by putting a child’s shoes in Mom’s and Mom’s shoes in Dad’s.”

* If you are flying, hand carry essentials. Gilford advocates carrying everything aboard the plane. But I’m convinced that in most cases checking my baggage is much less of a hassle because I don’t have to haul it between connecting flights--which sometimes can be a distance of a quarter of a mile. However, I make exceptions. If I will need a suit or tux at my destination, I pack it and any necessary accessories in a hanging bag, and I keep it with me on the plane. Everything else I check.

I always carry a small bag on board with basic mini-toiletries, a change of underwear and socks, a swimming suit and a small first-aid kit (aspirin, cold remedies) on the chance that my luggage is lost or delayed. Never put prescription medicines, valuables or house or car keys in checked luggage.


* Don’t fret. On at least two trips, one to Vancouver, B.C., and another to the U.S. Virgin Islands, my baggage was lost and didn’t catch up with me until I was back at home. I learned a valuable lesson; in a pinch, I can cope with a lot less clothing than I usually pack.

In Vancouver, I bought only a tie and a shirt to supplement the clothing I wore on the plane. On the plane, I had worn dress khakis and carried a sport jacket, which were suitable for a business meeting. In the Virgin Islands, I needed to buy only a pull-over shirt. Much of the time there, I wore only the bathing suit I had packed in my carry-on bag.